Plains Cree has a number of Interrogative Pronouns as well as Proforms which are used to ask questions about referents and other important semantic categories.


awīna “who” and kīkwāy “what”

The two most prominent Interrogative Pronouns are those which ask about participants in the discourse and which can be answered by personal pronouns, demonstrative pronouns, nouns and/or noun phrases.  As with the demonstrative pronouns, interrogative pronouns can be marked for number and (sometimes) gender.

The Cree equivalent for “who”, built on the stem awīn-, is given in Table *.1.  Here it can be seen that there are three main inflectional forms for the singular, plural and obviative.  All of these are animate, since there are no inanimate forms of  awīn-.

Table *.1

Forms of awīn- “who”


singular plural obviative
“who” (animate only) awīna awīniki

awīnihi /



awīna “who (singular)” can be used when a single referent is indicated or where the number is unknown.  awīniki “who (plural)” is used when the questioned referent is known (or assumed) to be plural.  There are two variants of the obviative form: awīnihi and awīniwā.  Either can be used and it is often a matter of regional preference with the exact usage of each community not yet well known.  These forms are exemplified in (1).

(1)    a)  singular:           awīna ana?                     “Who is that?”

  b)  plural:              awīniki wiyawāw?          “Who are they?”

  c)  obviative:         awīnihi / awīniwā  anihi ōsisima?    “Who is that grandchild of his/hers?”


The next interrogative pronoun, kīkwāy- “what”, has a more extensive paradigm, since it can appear in both animate and inanimate forms, as shown in Table *.2 which is given in its most complex form.


Table *.2

Forms of kīkwāy- “what”


proximate obviative
singular plural singular



animate kīkwāy kīkwāyak kīkwāya
inanimate kīkwāy kīkwāya kīkwāy


There are no number distinctions for the animate obviative, and no differences between inanimate proximate and obviative number at all.  In practice, in fact, even the basic number/obviation distinctions are ignored, with the singular form kīkwāy often used as an uninflected (indeclinable) form.  The examples in (2) (animate) and (3) (inanimate) illustrate the use of kīkwāy-.

(2)     animate:     singular:       a)    kīkwāy awa?                            “What is this?”

      plural:          b)    kīkwāyak (/ kīkwāy)  ōki?         “What are these?”

      obviative:    c)     kīkwāya (/ kīkwāy) anihi?        “What is this/What are these?”

(3)     inanimate:  singular:      a)     kīkwāy ōma?                           “What is this?”

      plural:         b)     kīkwāya (/ kīkwāy)  ōhi?           “What are these?”


The example in (3a) is the most commonly used expression and can in fact be used as the default question, regardless of what is being asked about, especially if number and gender are uncertain or unknown.

Ultimately, this interrogative form and its indefinite pronoun counterpart kīkway “something”, are built from a root kīkw- which can also occur in the form kīko “which one”.  kīko has no other inflected forms, but must co-occur with nouns in phrases as in (4):

(4)    kīko pīsim?   “Which month?”

The use of kīko is not as common as forms built on the interrogative element tān-, which is discussed next.


tān- “which, what”

A very large number of additional interrogative forms are built from the element tān- “which, what”.  The examples in Table *.3 show the formation of interrogative demonstrative pronouns meaning “which (one)”.  These can occur alone or in combination with other demonstrative pronouns or nouns, as in the examples in (5) and (6).

Table *.3

Forms of Interrogative Demonstratives


proximate obviative


plural singular




tāna tāniki


inanimate tānima tānihi tānima



(5)    animate:     singular:    a) tāna ana? ~ tān āna?           “which one?  which is that?  which is that one?”

     plural:        b) tāniki?  tānik āniki?                “which ones?  which are those?  which are those ones?”

     obviative:   c) tānihi?  tānih ānihi?               “which one(s)?  which is that/are those?  which is that one/are those ones?”

(6)     inanimate:  singular:    a) tānima?  tānim ānima?         “which one?  which is that?  which is that one?”

      plural:       b)  tānihi?  tānih ānihi?               “which ones?  which are those?  which are those ones?”


Locative Interrogatives

As with the demonstrative pronouns, we can also find several different types of locative interrogatives.  The first set mirrors in many ways the demonstrative pronouns in allowing for the differentiation of gender and number, as shown in Table *.4.

Table *.4

Locative Interrogative Demonstratives


proximate obviative


plural singular




tāniwā tāniwēhkāk


inanimate tāniwē tāniwēhā tāniwē



These locative interrogative demonstratives question the location of singular or plural referents, as exemplified in (7) and (8).

(7)    animate:     singular:      a)  tāniwā?             “where is this (animate) one?”

     plural:         b)  tāniwēhkāk?       “where are these (animate) ones?”

     obviative:   c)  tāniwēhā?            “where is this/are these (inanimate) one(s)?”

(8)     inanimate:  singular:     a)  tāniwē?               “where is this (inanimate) one?”

      plural:        b)  tāniwēhā?             “where are these (inanimate) ones?”


Two additional general interrogative locative proforms are also built on the initial tān- element and mirror a distinction found in topical locative demonstratives.  Here, instead of referring to some aforementioned topical location, we are instead asking about new or focal information.  Thus, alongside the topical locatives, we might refer to these as focal locative interrogatives, but all interrogatives are in fact focal in nature.  Strictly speaking, they are also called proforms rather than pronouns, because they do not replace nouns or noun phrases but instead represent locative obliques (much like English prepositional phrases or particles).

Table *.5

Interrogative Locative Proforms






‘where (precisely)’


‘where (generally)’


Other Oblique Interrogative Proforms

Like the interrogative locative proforms, a number of other semantic categories can be questioned through the formation of the additional interrogative proforms given in Table *.6 (see also the semantic categories identified in the discussion of Indeclinable Particles (IPC)). Thus, we can here see such familiar forms as “when”, “why”, and “how”, as well as less commonly discussed forms as “how many”, “how much”, “what type”, etc.

Table *.6

Additional Oblique Interrogative Proforms



tān- proform









“how much”

(amount: mass, extent)

tāniyikohk / tānimayikohk

“how many”

(amount: number)

tānitahto /


“how many times”


tānitahtwāw / tānimatahtwāw

“what sort”



“(in) what kind of place”

(locative sortal)


“how many ways/directions”